We took our 1971 Mercedes 250C out for a drive yesterday. It was overcast with a little rain, but not terrible. Our destination was Backwoods Brewing Company, an independent brew pub in Carson, WA. It’s about 50 miles away in the Columbia Gorge, not far from the site of the 2022 SCM 1000, Skamania Lodge.
Our 250 whisperer, Chip Starr, has got the Benz in almost exactly the shape we want it. Most recently, he has installed retractable front seat belts to replace the two-piece Laocoön-style factory ones.
The addition of 560SL front shocks make the car handle with authority, if not precision, while the Weber carb conversion provides the additional power to make use of the more relaxed rear axle ratio from a 300D.
While we were enjoying cruising at 70 mph, I once again bemoaned the fact that I had $40,000 “invested” in this $25,000 car.
Bradley was quick to counter. “Dad, you always resist waiting until the right car comes up on Bring a Trailer and paying a little more for it,” he said. “You kind of cheap out and then complain that a car needs more work than you expected.”
We’ve had this discussion before. I’ve explained that in “pre-BaT” days, the option of watching while a car being auctioned was picked to death by trolls didn’t exist. You based your decision on a classified ad, a conversation with the seller and perhaps a casual look-over by friends.
Our Mercedes was a solid car with good provenance, but it had needs. I paid $18k for it after a cursory glance around what is a thin market. The Solex carburetion was a mess. If the car had been offered on BaT, I doubt it would have brought $15k.
However, it was in exactly the configuration I wanted: no sunroof, working a/c, power windows and a floor shift. The paint and interior were excellent. I bought it from the family of the original owner, and it still had its German-delivery “Zol” plates on it.
However, when good friend Chris Bright drove this “needs nothing” car to Portland from Los Angeles, he suffered a never-ending series of nearly trip-ending dramas, including frequent stalling on the freeway and constant hot running. It also seemed to rev high at freeway speeds.
Knowing what I do now, before making a purchase I would have gone into my 250C hunting blind and waited until a very nice, good running car came along — one recommended by SCM Contributor Pierre Hedary or offered on BaT by Dean Laumbach (another SCM contributor) or Roy Spencer of Mercedes Heritage.
It might have cost me nearly $30k, but I would have had a machine that was ready to go and enjoy.
If my car’s Solexes had been properly sorted to start with, I wouldn’t have succumbed to the narcotic of a pair of Weber 32/36 DGEVs. And without the significant increase in power, I might have stayed with the stock rear axle. And perhaps I wouldn’t have pushed for the increased handling capabilities.
In its favor, my 250 is now a nearly perfect 52-year-old family cruiser. It has plenty of power and handles well. The tall greenhouse makes you feel like royalty going down the road. The Webers are still not perfect, as the aftermarket kits lack a solenoid to bump the idle when the a/c is on, and it is not an easy fix. I still haven’t decoded the HVAC controls even after Chip rebuilt them following Pierre’s mentoring.
But all this has come at a cost of nearly $40,000. Would I be just as happy with a $30k 250 with Solexes, and a stock suspension and rear-axle ratio? And a car I could have been enjoying for the eight months this one was in the shop?
I’ll never know, as I bought a car with more needs than I thought, and then went about optimizing it. I’m delighted with the results, if not the cost.
But I agree with Bradley that I could have been more patient.
We are in no hurry as we look around for a Volvo 240, BMW E30, Acura Integra or Toyota Supra with a manual and four seats for Bradley. (As a two-seater, his 1982 Collector’s Edition C3 Corvette is turning out not to be ideal for his friends to pile into when they want to go to the movies.) We will know when the right car comes up, one that has been enthusiast-owned but mostly stock, with no glaring imperfections and no immediate needs. We would be prepared to pay a premium for this car, as we now know that no matter that we pay over “normal market,” it will still be less than buying a deficient car and pouring money into it to make it right.